Monday, October 09, 2006

Art Is Psychic Alchemy

Ernest Becker championed the work of Otto Rank, and likewise believed in the redemptive power of Art for artist and spectator, alike. According to Rank:

"This very essence of a man, his soul, which the artist puts into his work and which is represented by it, is found again in the work by the enjoyer, just as the believer finds his soul in religion or in God, with whom he feels himself to be one."

Becker writes:

"Rank asked why the artist so often avoids clinical neurosis when he is so much a candidate for it because of his vivid imagination, his openness to the finest and broadest aspects of experience, his isolation from the cultural world view that satisfies everyone else.

The answer is that he takes in the world, but instead of being oppressed by it, he reworks it in his own personality, and recreates it in the work of art. The neurotic is precisely the one who cannot create. We might say that both the artist and the neurotic bites off more than he can chew, but the artist chews it over in an objectified way, and spews it out again, as an external, objective work project. The neurotic cannot marshal this creative response embodied in a specific work, and so he chokes on his introversions. The artist has similar large scale introversions, but he uses them as material.

The neurotic's frustration as a failed artist can't be remedied by anything but an objective creative work of his own.

Another way of looking at it is to say that the more totally one takes in the world as a problem, the more inferior or "bad" one is going to feel inside oneself. He can try to work out this "badness" by striving for perfection, and then the neurotic symptom becomes his "creative" work; or he can try to make himself perfect by means of his partner. But it is obvious to us that the only way to work on perfection is in the form of an objective work that is fully under your control and is perfectible in some real ways. Either you eat up yourself and others around you, trying for perfection; or you objectify that imperfection in a work, on which you then unleash your creative powers. In this sense, some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life.

In this way he satisfies nature, which asks that he live and act objectively as a vital animal plunging into the world; but he also satisfies his own distinctive human nature because he plunges in on his own symbolic terms and not as a reflex of the world as given to mere physical sense experience. He takes in the world, makes a total problem out of it and then gives out a fashioned, human answer to that problem. This, as Goethe saw in Faust, is the highest that man can achieve.

- Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death)

(Top illustration - Eugene Delacroix, Illustration for Goethe's Faust, 1825-7)

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